Pension group undergoes financial modernization

As part of an ongoing information technology modernization effort, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) is set to begin switching its financial systems from custom coded systems to commercial software.

"Our systems are basically at the end of life in terms of support," said Rick Hartt, PBGC chief technology officer. The agency is planning to award a contract later this year in order to purchase Joint Financial Management Improvement Program-certified software, he added. The procurement will be worth million of dollars, he said. "It's still a big deal for us."

The guaranty corporation is a federal company that insures private-sector pensions. The retirement plans of 44 million U.S. workers are covered by the corporation, which has seen the number of failed pensions it administers sharply rise throughout the past decade. Major airlines teetering into bankruptcy hasn't helped the workload either. "We're anticipating a really challenging year," Hartt said.

Modernization efforts began two years ago with the development of an enterprise architecture that divides the corporation into domains, Hartt said. Lately, work has focused on the data domain, he added. "It's down at the point of being implemented by project teams this year." Other domains include technology, applications and business. The latter is the main driver of the modernization effort, Hartt said. "It's now a wholesale business process re-engineering."

Corporation officials are also at work building Web browser service-oriented architecture. Two Web sites, each servicing one of two basic categories that constitutes PBGC's customer base, have been available for approximately a year. My Pension Benefit Account, for individuals whose pensions are now administered by the corporation, is slated for an upgrade this summer, Hartt said. As a result, individuals will soon be able to apply for benefits online.

As for administering private-sector pension plans, the coding of My Plan Administration Account will be upgraded to keep the Web site in sync with the corporation's insurance premium collection systems. That effort is being done in parallel with the switch to commercial financial systems software, Hartt said.

Whether increased efficiency achieved by modernizing the corporation will close some of its 11 field benefit administration offices is still unknown, he said. "That's a question that's being asked internally," Hartt said. "Our intent is to answer that question over the next 12 months or so."

A PBGC inspector general report dated last April finds that technology has made geographic dispersion of benefit administration offices no longer necessary for effective customer service.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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